You see a person that resembles someone who hurt you in the past. The next thing you know, you feel anxious. Your heart is racing. You notice a choking feeling. Your mind is running a million miles a minute. Is this a panic attack? Is it an anxiety attack? What can you call this experience?
As an anxiety therapist, I specialize in working with people with really severe anxiety. Many of my clients come in saying they’ve experienced panic attacks and/or anxiety attacks. I hear these two terms used interchangeably, but have you ever wondered what the difference is? Let’s explore the two a bit.
A panic attack is a sudden, severe and short lived experience of panic or extreme nervousness. Panic attacks are usually unexpected. In fact, people often don’t even know what caused the panic attacks. Most of my clients try to notice patterns and hypothesize about what the trigger(s) may be. But sometimes the “trigger” is never really identified.
The DSM-5 is a book therapists (and other health professionals) use to diagnose mental health conditions. It defines a panic attack in the context of panic disorder. Basically, this means that panic attack is an “official” term in the world of mental health and specific symptoms have been laid out to define what the term means.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack may include:
According to a DSM you are having a panic attack when you experience 4 of more of these symptoms:
- Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Shaking or trembling
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- A feeling or worry that you are dying
- Feeling like your experience is unreal or being detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Numbness or sometimes tingling sensations
- Chills or hot flashes
It’s also worth noting that people often take a few minutes up to several hours to feel fully “recovered” from the panic attack even though the most intense sensations only last a few minutes.
Anxiety attacks are more common, but less officially defined. Anxiety attacks aren’t explicitly defined in the DSM 5, but several different anxiety disorders are described. These anxiety disorders generally involve the person experiencing moments of intense anxiety which likely can be called anxiety attacks.
Anxiety attacks may come on suddenly such as when person sees something that reminds them of a past traumatic experience, when you receive bad news or when you unexpectedly see someone you’ve had conflict with in the past. On the other hand, an anxiety attack may refer to intense anxiety that slowly builds up as a person’s worry increases.
Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack may include:
- Muscle tension
- Racing thoughts
- Disturbed sleep/Nightmares
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exaggerated startle response
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Avoiding situations, things or people
Does it really matter if it’s a moment of severe anxiety or a panic attack?
A specific, accurate diagnosis of any mental health condition can help you and your therapist determine the most effective method of treatment. However, anxiety in general is treated fairly similarly. At our Columbia, MO counseling clinic, Aspire Counseling therapists treat you as an individual not a diagnosis. We will ask you a lot of questions about your anxiety or panic during the assessment process. We’ll then recommend a treatment approach based on research, your concerns/goals and our own experience. But at the end of the day, it’s not essential that we tease out exactly whether you are having an “anxiety” or “panic” attack. Our treatment methods will be effective for either one.
It’s important to know that treatment for both anxiety and panic is very, very effective. I’ve helped clients who had panic attacks so extreme that they couldn’t move or felt like they were dying. I’ve also worked with clients who lived in fear of their anxiety being triggered and felt embarrassed when they would have extreme anxiety in public. More importantly, I’ve seen clients in both situations respond really, really well to treatment. Anxiety treatment works folks. The more severe your anxiety, the more life changing effective treatment can feel. Good anxiety treatment from a therapist who specializes in this area can work fast. You don’t have to be in therapy forever to find relief. You just have to be ready to face your fear and be matched with the right mental health provider.
Treatment for Anxiety & Panic in Columbia, MO
If you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks and are ready to get help, contact Aspire Counseling. We are a Columbia, MO based counseling clinic specializes in anxiety treatment. We have several expert mental health therapists who specialize in Aspire Counseling and are trained in specific, evidence based treatments. Contact us today and our client care coordinator or clinical director will set you up with a free consultation.